The Hobgoblin. The alien costume. “The Kid Who
Collects Spider-Man.” Some of the most legendary Spider-Man stories
ever were written by Roger Stern…and next month, he’s back.
A favorite among fans and pros alike, Stern is also well-known for his work on The Avengers, Dr. Strange…and a little book called The Death of Superman. For the last few years, he’s been more visible in other media, including a series of Smallville novels. But with December’s Amazing Spider-Man #580,
illustrated by Lee Weeks, Stern returns to the character who helped
launch his career…and introduces a new foe in the process.
We had a chance to talk with Stern about going back to Spidey, how the
character has changed, and whether or not the character’s marriage was
a mistake. Set back for a look at what makes Spider-Man tick, by one of
the writers who helped define the character.
Newsarama: Roger, tell us about your new story for Amazing Spider-Man #580.
Roger Stern: It's about 22 pages long. There are lots of panels
with pretty pictures drawn by Lee Weeks, and balloons and captions
written by Yours Truly.
Oh, you mean the content? Basically, there's a new bad guy in town…a
man with no face. He's bulletproof and he robs banks. And Spider-Man
can't lay a finger on him. Adventure ensues.
Plus, there's Aunt May, Joe Robertson, and a couple of faces that haven't been seen in quite a while.
NRAMA: How did this come about?
RS: It was all pretty straightforward. I was contacted by Steve Wacker, who asked if I would like to write a story for Amazing Spider-Man.
I'd worked with Steve once before, on a project for another publisher.
That project never actually saw print, but it was fun working with
Steve, so when he offered me a Spider-Man assignment…well, he didn't
have to ask more than once.
NRAMA: Have you had a chance to work with some of the other
writers currently involved with Spider-Man? If so, any thoughts on them
or their work?
RS: I haven’t yet had a chance to speak or work directly with
any of them, but I've really been enjoying their stories. Of course,
I've been enjoying Bob Gale's work ever since he and Robert Zemeckis
wrote the movies I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars. And with Marc Guggenheim's work, I can't decide which I enjoy more…his Spider-Man stories or Eli Stone.
NRAMA: Many comic writers cite your work as a major influence -- how does it feel to have made that kind of impact?
RS: Do they really? I've had colleagues tell them that they
liked certain stories I'd written, but I wasn't aware of anyone citing
me as an influence. That's very flattering.
NRAMA: What's it been like coming back to the Amazing Spider-Man?
RS: At the risk of trotting out an old cliché, it's been like
coming home. Great, great fun. And I got to have Lee Weeks draw my
story! Man, I've wanted to work with him for years. And thanks to the
Wacker-Man, I finally got my chance.
NRAMA: “Wacker-Man.” That’s…that’s going to give me nightmares.
What aspects of Spider-Man have changed since your initial run, and what parts remain the same?
RS: Well, he's really been through the wringer, hasn't he?
Fortunately for me, most of the weirder stuff -- going public with his
secret identity, marrying the wrong girl -- has all been dealt with, so
I don't have to.
The Peter Parker appearing in the Amazing Spider-Man is
finally back to the way I like him. He's recognizable to me again -- in
both his identities -- so all I have to worry about is writing good
NRAMA: You were doing some stories for a European Spider-Man book a while back -- are you still working on those?
RS: That was a good while back, well over three years ago at
this point. I wrote three six-page Spider-Man strips for Panini UK's Marvel Rampage
magazine. My UK editor Tom O'Malley liked them enough that he also
asked me to write three Hulk strips for the magazine. It was a good
challenge, crafting stories for such a short page-count.
NRAMA: What are your thoughts on "Brand New Day" and how
marriage affects the storytelling opportunities for Spider-Man?
Obviously, the wedding had a bit of a rush from outside forces, but do
you feel that Spider-Man could be married and still have interesting
RS: Could? Possibly. Should? Not so much. The thing is,
Spider-Man is a mystery to his general public -- he could be anyone
under that mask. No one would know about his marital status -- or even
give it much thought, unless they were enemies looking to strike at him
through loved ones. In those pre-“Brand-New-Day” stories, it wasn't
really Spider-Man who was married, it was Peter Parker.
And Peter for the most part works best as a young, single guy. I would
never say he should never marry. But he certainly should not be married
to Mary Jane Watson. That's just crazy.
The only way the writers were able to keep that marriage going on the
printed page for as long as they did was by changing who Pete and MJ
were, by turning them into different people. And a lot of talented
writers worked on Spider-Man during that period, doing their best, but
that marriage never quite worked for to me. It was like hearing about
two old friends who'd run off and made this terrible mistake.
I even wrote a few stories about Pete and Mary Jane as a married couple – Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives and an Amazing Spider-Man Annual among them -- and the one part of those stories that made me uncomfortable was the marriage. It just felt wrong.
NRAMA: You made a point in your initial run on Spider-Man on
creating new villains, or at least putting him against characters not
usually associated with him. In "Brand New Day," there's been a strong
emphasis on this as well. What, to your way of thinking is the key to a
good Spider-Man antagonist, and where do you feel some attempts at new
characters go wrong?
RS: Spider-Man's best adversaries have been as interesting, as
fascinating, as Peter Parker is. And of course, most of them have been
designed by guys named Ditko or Romita (Senior and Junior) -- so they look great, as well.
In fact, I'll go out on a limb here and say that the biggest challenge
to anyone trying to develop a Spider-Man villain is to design a
character that can stand up to the legacy of the Vulture, Doctor
Octopus, the Sandman, Electro, Mysterio, and the Green Goblin. It's no
wonder that so many readers are happiest when those guys return to give
Our Hero a hard time. They're great characters in their own rights.
The trick, of course, is to find something new and different for them
to do each time, so that you're doing more than just reprising the old
stories. Repeating stories…that's the main way things can go wrong.
And that's one of the better arguments for tossing new antagonists into
the mix. You give Spider-Man the problem of facing off against someone
he's never met before. And if you do it right, readers want to see the
new villains return…which leads you back to the problem of finding ways
to do something new and different. Balancing the old and the new can be
a never-ending battle -- to borrow another hero's burden -- but that's
the writer's job. It's a challenge, but it can be fun to exercise those
brain cells and meet that challenge.
NRAMA: Following up from that -- have you gotten a chance to see
any of the new villains from "Brand New Day," and if so, do you have
RS: I've seen all of the ones who've appeared so far, and
they’re all pretty intriguing. Favorites? Ask me today, and I'll say
Mister Negative. But ask me in another hour, and I might say Paper Doll
Or Anti-Venom! Man, that was a sharp design. Before this, I never much
cared for the look -- or the character -- of Venom. But Dan Slott and
J.R. have me interested in Eddie Brock for the first time ever.
NRAMA: Would you be interested in coming back to the Spider-Man books for a longer arc or an ongoing run?
RS: Of course, I would. Steve Wacker already has me at work on a
three-part arc for sometime next year, but I'd love to get in on more
of the action. The Spider-Meisters look like they're having a lot of
NRAMA: What are some other projects you are currently working on?
RS: Well, I've collaborated with Kurt Busiek on Marvels: Eye of the Camera #3-#6. That is part of a sequel to Kurt's earlier Marvels mini-series. Our issues should start appearing in January 2009.
And I've heard back from some other editors about possible projects in the New Year. Wish me luck!
NRAMA: What's the biggest difference in working on novels vs. comics, particularly when you're dealing with a comic-like premise?
RS: With novels, you're telling a story in a different medium, and different media have different advantages and limitations.
With the comics medium, your main limitation is space. There are only
so many pages, so many panels, available in which to tell your story.
There are spatial considerations with any print media -- you don't want
to tell a story so long that the book is too heavy to lift or the
binding gives way -- but prose is a little less restrictive than
If you're telling a story on radio or television, your big limitation
is time -- there are only so many minutes available to tell the tale.
Time is a factor with movies as well, but the limits are not as strict.
And then there's what I like to call the Explosion Factor. With motion
pictures or television, if you want a really awe-inspiring explosion,
you need a good effects crew and a good bit of money. With radio, you
need a good sound effects guy. With comics, you need a good artist.
But with prose, if you want that awe-inspiring explosion, all you have
are your skills as a writer. If you want to sell that explosion in cold
type, you are out there all by yourself, using every trick of language
and storytelling you have to sell the readers on the scope and
importance of that explosion.
On the other hand, with prose you can have your characters engage in
long, meaty discussions or even monologues that would be a series of
boring-looking talking head shots in a comic book.
It all balances out in the end.
NRAMA: What are some current comics or comic-related projects that you enjoy?
RS: You mean, aside from Amazing Spider-Man? I mainly try to follow the work of fellow writers
Kurt Busiek, Gail Simone, Geoff Johns, Paul Dini…and, of course, my
youthful former protégé Tom Peyer (he always insists on the "youthful"
part)…wish there was more by him out there.
And I love the Marvel Essentials and the DC Showcase "phonebooks." What a great package! You really get a lot of bang for your buck with those collections.
NRAMA: Anything you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
RS: How about that election? We have a President-Elect who's a
Spider-Man fan! It's like I've been saying for years, people who grew
up reading comics are moving into positions of power in media, in
business, and now in the Executive Branch of the federal government. Is
that cool or what? I don't know about you, but I'm very happy that the
next President of the United States knows that "in this world, with
great power there must also come -- great responsibility!"
Amazing Spider-Man #580 is currently scheduled to ship on December 10.